One of the key factors driving the success of my practice is our customer service. We have a focus on providing an excellent experience to our patients, from what occurs the moment they schedule until the moment they check out. Although it can sometimes seem like "not a big deal" to us, it can be a really big deal to our patients. Small accommodations can lead to huge wins. Here are the top small (and big) things my practice has implemented, and helped us grow from a cold start to well over seven figures in ten years:
Provide online scheduling options. Seems small but having had this in place for the last many years, I see how many patients enjoy the convenience of scheduling whenever they are available to do so, be it 5am or 11pm. If we took this feature away, my recent calculations show we would have 15-20 less exams scheduled per week.
Review insurance benefits prior to the patient coming in. I know I will get some naysayers on this one, but the idea here is to check benefits for your practice’s own knowledge, and not promise/mention anything to the patient. This helps us most when we see there are no benefits, as we can offer the patients private pay options ahead of time. Additionally, we encourage they always call themselves to verify benefits. This has saved us a lot of back-end AR issues when exams aren’t covered, and patients appreciate the notification. Can you think of many times your own doctors "checked" on benefits for you prior to your visit?
Make data gathering electronic. As much as possible, attempt to get forms, consents, and any info you get from your patients on to a tablet for ease of entry, data transfer, and saving of paper waste. I was surprised when we fully implemented this last year how many patients commented on how great that was.
Late? We will make it work. Life happens, everyone. Yes, you have your chronically late patients, but most people are doing their best to be on time and arriving a few minutes late can usually still be managed, and most are fine knowing they now may have to wait for the doctor. Give patients the chance to reschedule if necessary but say "okay" more than "no way" when they are late.
Personal emails/texts/calls. Following up with patients, no matter if its related to their current red eye, new glasses, finalization of contact lenses, or to congratulate them on a new grandbaby, is such a personal touch. It shows you care, you want to get it right, and you remember them beyond your exam encounter. Sending a message takes moments, but patients remember those moments.
Recommend the best products/services. Have you ever noticed the greatest issues arise when the cheapest/easiest options are pursued? Didn’t want that AR? Now you’re back for a glasses re-check because you can’t "see" at night when driving. Failed to follow my instructions for your dry eye regimen, and now your dry eye is worse? Let’s talk about disease progression. My job is to tell patients what I think is best for them. I can do this easily because I know it will lead to the best outcomes for all.
Appreciate your staff. Staffing is complex, but taking the time to appreciate your employees, the key drivers of your patients’ experiences, is important. Mix up the ways in which you do so, to speak to a variety of staff personalities.
Update your practice. If your practice looks the same today as it did a year ago, you need to rearrange some furniture, paint some walls, or display/merchandise something new. Consistency is appreciated in many forms, but I think being consistently "updated" is pleasing to our patients, many of whom compliment me on the new "look" we have each year.
Stay current on new treatments/approaches. If you are advising your patients in the same manner in regard to eye health, the best glasses, or contact lenses, year over year, consider attending more CE that keeps you up-to-date on such options. Patients value knowing that their doctor is staying current and applying that knowledge to them.
Think for yourself. There are many, many sources telling us how we should run our practices, do our jobs and treat our patients. I invite you to break away from the herd every now and then and put your own stamp and style in your practice. Patients often like you for you, so don’t lose that in the minutiae.
These mostly small practices within a practice are what make our patients want to come back, year after year. There are many, many choices for eye care. Make the choice of "you" indisputable.
Gina M. Wesley OD, MS, FAAO owns and practices at Complete Eye Care in Medina, MN. Accolades include Minnesota's Young Optometrist of the Year in 2011 and the Early Professional Achievement Award from The Ohio State University College of Optometry in 2013. She is a member of the American Optometric Association, a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry and enjoys practicing, writing and lecturing in the industry. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.